College all-star game defensive standouts

Last week, I discussed a few offensive prospects who'd stood out to me during the college all star games, for better or worse. Today, let's do the same for the year's defensive prospects:

Nick Marshall, CB, Auburn - Marshall has a fun story. He showed up at the Senior Bowl, to which he had been invited as a quarterback, went to the first positional meeting, and then went to the powers that be. He told them that he wanted to switch to cornerback, and they agreed to it. He’s 6-1, 207, and he showed a lot of skill at the position.

He seems to prefer press man. That makes him even more attractive as a pro. A long player who isn’t uncomfortable mixing it up and going for the high point should attract plenty of attention. He’s also able to play safety.

Danny Shelton, DT, Washington - At 6-2 and 339 lb, Danny’s going to get a lot of debate over the next couple of months. He has surprisingly good stamina. For the right scheme, he’s a great, space-eating, two-gapping nose guard.

Could he play single gap? I think so - he showed some suddenness in his movements at times. He was commonly double-teamed, which he often handled. He’s a motor guy, but he’s more than that. His endurance is impressive. He gave everything, every drill or play. A lot of big guys struggle with conditioning. Shelton’s the exception.

Hau'oli Kikaha, DE, Washington - Kikaha led the FBS in sacks this season, posting a whopping 19 of them in the Huskies' 14 games. How much of that performance will translate to the NFL? That's open to debate. He’s not much of a run stopper and can’t really cover. But he’s fast and can attack inside or out. What are you willing to pay for a pass rush specialist?

Kikaha checked into the combine at 6-3, 246. That’s about where Detroit's 2014 second-rounder Kyle Van Noy stood. He could use some more size, provided he can transfer it to strength. Lots of teams need a pass rushing specialist these days, although some medical issues have reportedly knocked Kikaha completely off some teams' draft boards.

Zack Hodges, OLB, Harvard - This is the window of draft season when small-school stars gain a foothold in the public consciousness. Hodges could be a Day 2 selection come April, so getting known is essential.

Hodges was the Ivy League's Co-Defensive Player of the Year. He finished the season with 8.5 sacks and registered 27.0 for his career. At 6-3, 235, Hodges is explosive off the line and was fine in one-on-one drills during the week. These showcases against higher-profile players are key for the small-school prospects.

Preston Smith, DT, Mississippi State - The 6-6, 270-pounder went up against Alabama OT Austin Shepherd (6-5, 320 lb) in one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl. Smith just destroyed him inside and could be this year’s Drake Nevis. He’s a quarterback harassing, whipcord-tough player.

He shouldn’t be able to do those things to powerful NFL offensive linemen, but he can. His natural role is variable: Like Derek Wolfe in his rookie season, Smith can play DE/DT/NG or three-tech. I’m not sure how to use him schematically along with Wade Phillips' single-gapping. There are several options. If Denver can figure it out, he could be a deadly weapon.

Trey Flowers, DE, Arkansas - Flowers (6-3, 270) is built much like Smith, although he’s shorter. He spent part of a Senior Bowl week afternoon embarrassing Texas A&M RT Germain Ifedi. It was eye-opening - about both players. Flowers can be very effective as a pass rusher. With his 84.5” wingspan, it’s no surprise that he’s also highly effective against the run. He can reach out and grab what other players would have to chase.

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